Republican candidates find a debate topic that unites them: their hatred of “the media”

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In a fractious and unpredictable Republican primary season, the candidates at tonight’s CNBC debate finally found a theme they could all agree on: Bashing the moderators and the “mainstream media” for their perceived anti-Republican bias. The audience ate it up, responding with loud cheers and booing CNBC’s journalists.

As the Washington Post noted, only 27% of Republicans trust the mass media, a number far lower than for independents and Democrats.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio led the charge, drawing applause when he unleashed a prepared rant against a Florida newspaper that criticized him for missing too many Senate votes. Rubio rattled off a number of Democratic presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, who had done the same, and cited the disparity as ”evidence of the bias that exists in the American media today.”

Rubio also claimed that “Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC: It’s called the mainstream media.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz picked up the baton and earned the most resounding applause of the night by pouring scorn on CNBC’s confrontational stance toward the candidates, saying: “The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.”

Cruz had actually been asked a substantive question about the debt ceiling, but instead of answering he disparaged the moderators’ attempts to treat the debate like a ”cage match.” CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla attempted to steer him back on topic, but to no avail:

When a moderator interrupted Chris Christie, he got the biggest laugh line of the night:

Donald Trump happily piled on, repeatedly insisting that the the premise of the questions put to him were incorrect. Asked by CNBC’s Becky Quick about his accusation that Marco Rubio was the “personal senator” of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Trump cut Quick off:

Quick: “You have talked a little bit about Marco Rubio. I think you called him (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator, because he was in favor of the H-1B visa.”

Trump: “I never said that. I never said that.”

Quick: “So this is an erroneous article the whole way around? … My apologies, I’m sorry.”

Trump: “Somebody’s really doing some bad fact-checking.”

In fact, the quote about Rubio and Zuckerberg came from Trump’s own campaign website. When Quick pointed that out later, neither Trump nor the audience batted an eye.